Israeli Rock Climbers Fight For Access

On a hot July morning in Ein Fara Nature Reserve north of Jerusalem, 81-year-old climber Andrea Anati looped a rope anchored at the top of the cliff into a figure-eight knot and around his harness. Wearing a collared shirt and khaki slacks, he was reminiscent of a time when mountaineers wore suits to the summit. He looked somewhat out of place next to the other rock climbers at the wall that day, among them a father with his two young sons.

Andrea Anati climbs a cliff in Ein Fara Nature Reserve. At 81, he has been climbing now for 40 years.

Andrea Anati climbs a cliff in Ein Fara Nature Reserve. At 81, he has been climbing now for 40 years.

Anati looked admiringly at the boys as he began climbing the wall. He ascended with graceful precision, eventually reaching the top edge of the valley where he could look down at the wadi hundreds of meters below him. Anati is an experienced climber; although he started in his early forties, later than most do.

To the north of his perch was a stretch of 400 meters—about 1300 feet—of rock wall known for some of the best climbing in country. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) banned climbing from that spot in Ein Fara last winter, due to a rain-induced landslide in a 15-meter section of the wall. Hikers, however, are still welcome to visit the spot.

The collapse occurred outside of the climbing section. There are hundreds of routes on the closed wall that are still safe, Anati said.

In response to the climbing ban in Ein Fara, the members of the Israel Climbers Club (ILCC) protested in May by marching in front of the INPA offices. During this protest, some climbers scaled the building to take down the Parks Authority flag, said INPA spokeswoman Tali Tenenbaum,.

In June, a group of climbers got together to climb in the barred areas to post signs on the rocks. Those signs are still there, said Tenenbaum. About 30 people were called to the INPA offices and fined.

Ein Fara is one of the most important—and one of the few—rock climbing sites in Israel. While rock is plentiful in Israel, most of it is not strong enough to climb. About 99 percent of the climbs are within national parks and under the INPA authority, said Noam Weis, an ILCC member and ex-chairman of the group.

“Every crag is a struggle and we will fight for them,” Weis said. An avid climber, Weis works for a company that distributes climbing and outdoor gear.

This issue of access is not a new one. The ILCC has been trying to negotiate with the Parks Authority since 1998 to keep routes open, said Gil Tenne, a board member of the club. Anati estimates they have been trying to negotiate for 10 years now, maybe more.

“We have nothing to lose. They can’t ban more climbing,” Tenne said. “We have no other solution but to try.”

For the Parks Authority, keeping park users safe is the biggest motivation behind closing the sites, said Tenenbaum.

A climber repels down a wall overlooking the Ein Fara valley. Because of a landslide, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority closed down some sections of Ein Fara to climbers.

A climber repels down a wall overlooking the Ein Fara valley. Because of a landslide, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority closed down some sections of Ein Fara to climbers.

“We offered a couple of options. There are 22 other places to climb,” Tenenbaum said. “The big problem from our point of view is that they won’t take our options.”

Tenenbaum said the INPA hired geologists to survey the sites that were deemed unsafe. However, the climbers believe some of the banned sites are still safe to climb.

The Israeli rock climbing community has doubled in the last five years, Weis said. A new rock gym is built every two years. That said, it’s a small community. There are about 5,000 climbers of all levels in the entire country, Weis estimates.

“Everybody knows everybody,” he said.

This certainly seems to be true for Anati. The octogenarian is still very involved with the ILCC and most Israeli climbers know who he is. In the most recent issue of the ILCC’s journal, Anati contributed an article about his experiences climbing in Sinai in 1977. He wrote the region’s very first climbing guidebook, as he and his companions made several first ascents there. Sinai is blocked to Israelis now due to political unrest, but Anati remembers its climbs with a hearty smile.

“The granite in Sinai is spectacular,” he said.

Born in Florence, Italy, Anati arrived in Israel in 1945 during World War II. He and his family lived in hiding from the Gestapo for three years, moving from place to place. About a month ago, he visited their old hiding spot in the mountains of Tuscany with his two surviving brothers.

“Everything has changed,” he said, “big trees growing, but we found the hiding place, destroyed.”

The family then moved to a British displaced persons camp in Palestine, eventually moving on to a small town in Israel.

“I created the state,” he said. “Not alone, mind you.”

After his mandatory IDF service as a radio operator for the Navy, he studied physics at Hebrew University, then moved to the United States to earn his master’s at MIT. He received his doctorate from the Weizmann Institute of Science, and he published many research articles on  the physics of water bodies in various journals in the United States and France.

His background in physics has influenced his articles on climbing technique. Because he understands how weight is distributed during belaying, he can figure out ways to stay safe while putting the least amount of stress on the rope.

Ein Fara is known for some of the best climbing in Israel. At the bottom of the valley, a spring flows year round, creating an oasis among the dry desert. It’s situated just outside of Jerusalem in the West Bank, and settlements surround the borders of the park.

Ein Fara is known for some of the best climbing in Israel. At the bottom of the valley, a spring flows year round, creating an oasis among the dry desert. It’s situated just outside of Jerusalem in the West Bank, and settlements surround the borders of the park.

He has been an outdoorsman and athlete throughout his life. Even today, he doesn’t own a car—he only rides his bike. It wasn’t until he discovered climbing in his forties that he found his favorite outdoor activity.

“For me, it was being born again. The moment I was taken to a cliff, tied to the rope and started climbing, I knew that was it,” he said. “I knew that all the rest was nothing, that I would be a climber. I felt at home with rock.”

Just two years later, he became a certified instructor. That is how he met Adina Garber, his current climbing partner and former student.

“He’s a unique instructor. He was doing it with all his heart, with patience, with love for the sport,” said Garber.

As an climbing teacher, Anati has gained renown throughout Israel and beyond. Instruction, Garber said, has been his largest contribution to climbing. On a recent July day, Anati was invited to speak with the IDF Alpine Units, the sector of the army that deals with mountaineering and rescue, about his experiences in Sinai.

In addition to his many articles on climbing technique and gear, Anati is in the process of writing a novel, which he calls “Climbing and Zen in Provence.” The book is about a young man who meets an old, Italian-born climbing instructor in Southern France. Anati himself lived in France for one year.

As the Israeli rock climbing community is starting to outgrow its limited climbing access, Anati is beginning to pass the torch on to the next generation of avid Israeli rock climbers. Micha Yaniv, Anati’s son-in-law, has opened a gym in Rehovot. Between running the gym and writing climbing technique articles, climbing is Yaniv’s entire livelihood.

“Once you find your field of interest, this is all you do,” Yaniv said.

Yaniv, who has summited Everest, is also an accomplished mountaineer. Despite the climbing bans, Anati has only seen the interest in the sport grow, evidenced by climbers like Yaniv.

“People are only getting better and better. When I first started, there were only 20 of us in Israel.” Anati said. “Now, there are so many, and they are doing things we never could do.”


Fatal error: Call to undefined function the_author_image() in /homepages/0/d792024683/htdocs/webroot/projects.ieimedia.com/2013jerusalem/wp-content/themes/arras/single.php on line 43